Archive for April, 2014

Happy Monday and thanks for more great engagement around the war on content pollution. This week the topic made it to the McKinsey must read: More momentum for the war on content pollution.

As an industry we are waking up to the new day but there is still work to do and current practices to fix. 

So with that, please enjoy Part 4 in the series and thanks to Tom Fishburne for the terrific cartoon. 


That vision of 7 billion personal, one-to-one conversations may still be a long way off. But there is no question that the marketplace is both immensely bigger than it was a generation ago and that is at the same time demanding much more individualized attention.

The fastest growing social networks today aren’t the Facebooks and Twitters. They are smaller interest groups. Moms, foodies, dog lovers, cyclists, investors, entrepreneurs, and any other self-defining group you can imagine.

I saw one estimate that described Social Marketing as a $44-Billion opportunity. I think that’s a low number. But does that mean we should all start bombarding these communities of interest with marketing messages? …. The short answer is NO!

That’s just Big Data as the Big Bully all over again. And nobody likes a bully trying to muscle his – or her – way through the doorway.

Our opportunity now is to understand the marketplace as never before. To behave with finesse to earn entry into the room.

Only by listening can we get to the point where we can have something to talk about that our listeners actually care about.

Only then can we earn our way into conversations. Only by listening and understanding with all the tools and resources at our command can we make our brands relevant.

The art and science of communication lives at the intersection of story and data-driven insight. It is the ability to craft narratives, rich with compelling imagery, which are directly germane to the lives of the people with whom we would connect.

To generate content that doesn’t pollute – it actually enlightens. It excites. It motivates.

It even can help. Help someone’s life or the life of their family be better.

For all of us here today, and for the organizations we represent, the headline is this: we’ve already stepped out onto that slippery slope – and we’re picking up speed. The new dawn has dawned.

The world is going to get there with or without us.

I’m willing to bet that everyone is generally on board with the idea that the way to win and keep customers is no longer to bombard them with mass market messages. But we need to act to create a truly better way.

I think most of us would agree that, in this era of big data and personal engagement, the holy grail of marketing – the ne plus ultra – is one-to-one marketing. One person, credible and trusted, who recommends a brand to someone else.

But we have to move our thinking further than that. Have we accepted that our organizations no longer control their reputations? We should. That ship has sailed.

For decades PR has been on auto-pilot. Certainly there has been good and creative work, but at the macro level PR has operated pretty much like, well, let me offer something of a culinary analogy.

We’ve been like a deli counter. “Give me a half a pound of press releases, a few slices of that nice holding statement over there, half a dozen photo ops, a blog post, some branded content, and 150-million impressions.”

We have to stop doing that. We’re decades into the digital era, decades into the mobile era and a decade into the social era. PR has to stop doing what it still routinely does. And the businesses and brands we support have to stop asking for it.

That doesn’t mean abandoning those tactics completely. It means being smarter. It means using the right channel at the right time to reach the right person.

It means analyzing and designing Big Data to tell a focused, relevant, irresistible story each and every time we start talking. And I mean talking in every possible sense of the term. Aloud, in writing, in a press release, on a blog, in a tweet, and so on.

We have to hold ourselves to a higher, but very simple standard –never give a listener a reason not to listen.

And let’s be clear – whenever a listener does tune out, it’s always for the same reason – here’s the quote in that tuned out non-listener’s mind – this has nothing to do with me.

With all the tools and resources at our command, all that data – there really should be no excuse to get to the point that we are interacting with a listener, or a reader, with information that means nothing to them.

The art and the science is preventing that as much as possible. I’m not saying it’s a perfectly, mathematically reliable, exact science. There is art involved, for sure.

But we need to aspire to get ever closer to precision. One size does not fit all.

And that takes us right back to where we started – it is about the content. And the strategy to get that content out there in the world. That in turn means, of course, a discussion of the channel.

Was Marshall McLuhan right or wrong. In today’s world my belief is…. (tune in next week)

Thoughts and comments are welcome. Let’s keep the conversation going. 



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Thanks for all those that reached out and are sharing in the war on content pollution. I was thrilled to see the dialogue carry over to the Huffington Post. (

Here are some more thoughts to keep the conversation going.

We need to become much more selective with the stories we tell. The sheer heft of the data we command is increasingly a problem, not an advantage.

It is a resource only if we make it one.

We have tools we couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago, even 5 years ago. If we succeed in taking advantage of that, the end result will be a rediscovery of the power of a real conversation between two people.

40 years ago, my brother and I engaged in a legendary conversation. We confronted honestly and passionately one of the great questions of our generation – whether the greatest rock n’ roll band of all time was Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones. He took the former position. I, the latter.

I believe I got the better of the conversation.

That’s what conversation is all about. That conversation is a happy memory for me, and that’s what conversation does. It’s relationship – connection.

I’m not suggesting that we can create the special bond between two brothers when we’re talking to customers. But any conversation is still about a relationship, and it’s about connection. Brothers are born with both of those. But we can and should aspire as brands to a level of real engagement every time we tell our story to the world.

If we don’t, after all, why are we out there with our information in the first place?

Relationship is engagement. And engagement is credibility. And credibility is trust. And trust is what we are paid to inspire. Everyone in this room is in the trust business.

You can’t fake it. You can have tera-bytes of data. But if that becomes just another data dump – there will be no relevance. No relationship. No engagement. No credibility. No trust.

Now, let me say, it isn’t a trivial effort. Please don’t think I am being cynical. This is not about manipulating our way onto someone’s wavelength with some kind of superficial but cleverly packaged, focus-grouped insight.

I am at the complete other end of the spectrum.

I genuinely want to find ways to be truly relevant.

The strategic shift must be from the traditional command-and-control model of imposing messages to something much more sophisticated.

To clear the air, to end content pollution – there must be a new model.

It must be a continuous, dynamic cycle: Listen. Understand. Respond, with relevance. Engage. Persuade. And then, at the end of that cycle – listen some more. And start all over again.

This is likely the biggest strategic shift that we will see in our careers as communicators and content producers.

With all that we can know about customers…. What stories will we tell? This is what counts.

We have everything we need to succeed. We are very much in the right place at the right time. We are at the threshold, at the doorway, of the C-suite to a degree we’ve never been in this industry. I think we all know that. I’m sure all of you in this room are highly valued business advisors to your CEO.

But I’m talking about a new role for the PR function: as integral and in fact indispensable to the strategic direction of the organization.

In this new world, it should no longer be possible to divorce business decisions from communication decisions.

Not if we want to generate credibility and trust in a world saturated with information.

That takes art, because communicating effectively has always demanded that. Creativity, a fresh take, bright ideas.

But I think we must now begin to think more consistently of the art and the science of communication.

That has important implications for business decisions, meaning where we allocate resources and what return we expect in return.

In this new golden age of PR, the science is our ability to personalize, to localize and to humanize our interactions as never before. And, here’s the thing – we are able to do that, continuously, because we can measure the impact of all this in real time.

More to come. Let’s keep the conversation (battle) going.


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Isn’t it amazing to consider all the collective intelligence, capabilities, experience, not to mention the combined budgets, which are represented in this discussion today?

It would be staggering to sit down and add up all the time, analysis, effort, production and money spent in the past year by each one of us to build brand loyalty. All in the effort to engage customers and to try to convince people to use our products and services.

And all that money, allthese smart people, all this enormous vault of technology and wisdom, hundreds of years of accrued knowledge – it’s all aimed at creating a really very ordinary thing.

A conversation.

A genuine conversation between two people who trust each other.

That’s what we’re trying to create with all the engines of our creativity, the depth of our experience and the considerable sweat of our collective brows.

The challenge we face, of course, is how to have 7 billion of these one-to-one conversations at a time.

For most of history that would have seemed to be a ridiculous ambition. But it really no longer is.

We are, in fact, right now, in the middle of that very conversation. As I speak to you, our brands are talking to the whole world, and the world is talking back.

Wherever there is a computer or a mobile phone this conversation is alive, or has the potential to be. Turn the thing on, google the name of the brand, and bingo – a conversation has become a possibility.

Our ability to send and receive data is that big.

I suppose that’s why we call it, and isn’t that clever of us – Big Data.

I’m talking about the immense tides of information that wash over the world and into each one of our individual heads and hearts every minute of the day, and deep into the night too.

Big Data is a big deal, and it has been for some time now. But it’s also in danger of becoming just too big.

Big Data’s become like a very big guy trying to bull his way into the house through a door that’s too small. The door is our brains on Big Data. We don’t have enough room for it. We want to shut the door in Big Data’s face.

The sheer bulk and brawn of all the data at our command is not enough. We need to really, radically, slim our data down. Take some weight off, put data on a diet. We need to decide what people want to let in. Meaning, what will be of benefit to them. What they’re actually interested in.

Then we can get in the door, sit down and really have a, yes, that most basic form of human communication – a conversation.

Don’t talk at me. Talk to me. Talk with me.

More to come on this next week. Lets discuss and share. I am listening.



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Chapter One: Big data at the intersection of code and content in the era digital storytelling.


We are at the dawn of the Golden Age of PR.


For each of us who do this work for a living, I believe this can be an amazing time. I have no doubt about that. But there is a big if.

If – we don’t screw it up.

The problem is a whole other kind of global warming. Not the carbon pouring from smokestacks kind. But it is a problem of pollution. It is a problem of hot air. I’m talk ing about – content pollution.

Every day, it spews from too many of the factories of the communications industry, and from the brands we represent. I’m here to tell you that we can do better. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about that. Not only can we do better – I know, and we know, that we can do better. It is high time to really stand up and clear the air. That’s what I’d like to talk to you about today. Waging war – on content pollution.

Content is the coin of our realm. We need to make sure more than ever before what we say is really worth its weight in gold. As brands, we have in too many cases become arrogant in our belief that people want to hear from us and that we know what they want to hear. We need to listen a lot better. So that when we speak – we are heard. So that when we speak it doesn’t sound like so much hot air.

If we do that, this really will be a Golden Age of PR. If we don’t – slowly, but surely – people will tune us out.  

One way leads to dramatically enhanced credibility for the brands we represent. The other way threatens the very viability of our industry. The stakes, in my opinion, are definitely that high. We are at a moment at which we can increasingly be seen as a discipline rich with possibility. Or we can risk being seen as a liability – as a force that makes brands less trusted, less authentic. Less worth listening to.

I think we all need to step back and put the brakes on. In some cases, I think we need to stop altogether. We need to take a good hard look at ourselves and at the marketplace, both the commercial marketplace and the marketplace of ideas. And not just critically.

I would encourage all of us to enjoy the view of the incredible potential of this industry. In a world of instant and universal communication, we’re the communication specialists, that’s what we do. But we have to listen better so that what comes out of our collective mouths reaches the hearts and minds of all those literally billions of people we can now have instant and universal contact with. Everything starts with listening. We need to stop manufacturing content without first truly leaning in to really listen to what people are truly talking about. We need to use the powerful measurement tools now at our command to understand what matters to them. Not to us. What matters is what the audiences we want to reach care about.

We need to earn our way into the conversation, more than ever before. That’s how you build trust. We need to enter into a relationship with the people we want to talk to. That’s how to be heard when we speak about our ideas, our offers and our products. We can do it. I have no doubt that we will do it. At MasterCard, we have already begun, and I’m going to talk about that. At my company, and yours, it’s a great time to be in this business. I’m incredibly excited to be a part of it. It is a golden age – if – we don’t screw it up.

More to come this week but would love to get an engagement and dialogue started. I am listening.    

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